'How long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you are' -Anonymous
During my morning jog on the Worli Sea Face promenade, I often turn back at the defunct police chowky to run that extra mile. I read that the police chowky which no longer houses any cops may turn into a loo.
This reminds me of the recent spar of words between Jayaram Ramesh and Narendra Modi on the holy subject of loos. Both these gentlemen at different points in time have agreed that India as a nation needs more loos than temples. I strongly agree with them.
In good old days, The Times of India had a section in the edit page which we called ‘middle’. This was where amateur writers typed their thoughts and got kicks of seeing it published. Now thanks to the internet anybody (me included) can write a blog and fulfill their desires. One of the ‘middles’ was titled The Loo Side Story (which I borrowed as my title too) which talked about the travel travails of an Indian, especially of the fairer sex.
India is a giant urinal for the Indian males. They comfortably relieve themselves behind the tree, on the wall or any other place good enough to let go. The concept of restroom is still not ‘public’. I grew up in a small town in Ranchi where people never used to bother about such niceties. Nobody even bothered to ask where is the loo or restroom. And if asked, then standard answer was “jhaadi kay peeche jao”, in English meant go behind bushes.
I grew up thinking this was probably the same story across the country. As a kid I travelled with my family to Trichy and other temple towns in Tamil Nadu. Surprisingly, in every bus stop there was a paid loo, something like Sulabh Sauchalaya but much cleaner. Everybody in our family of Brahmins talked more about the need for loos than for temples in the heartland of the temple land - Tamil Nadu. And this was more reason to crib about backwardness of Bihar.
The first time I travelled abroad I was astonished to know that even buses there had loos. In India no self respecting bus has a loo and every time anybody has to answer the call of the nature he just goes to the conductor or driver and displays his predicament through sign language. Every bus route used to have strategic time outs long before strategic timeouts became famous in T20. It is surprising that a country like India, which is large and aspiring to become an economic super power pays absolutely no interest on public amenities. So called backward countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Burma have better restroom or washroom infrastructure.
In my childhood, part of the mandatory before going out of the house ritual included cleaning bowels. We were instructed as children not to eat randomly outside because there won’t be any ‘bathrooms.’ Unfortunately, my children have not learnt these lessons well and often when we go to eat, my younger son, midway of the dinner insists on some relief measures and expresses his desire in loud voice to visit the loo. The task of escorting the children to the rest room and back often makes me lose my interest in the food. My son of course has no qualms and enjoys the meal after his return. And this becomes one more topic of domestic warfare.
There are few places which surprise you on the positive side too. There is one Haveli, if you are driving from Delhi to Chandigarh, just before Karnal. The place is always full; and serves awesome Punjabi cuisine. Most importantly it has clean and big loos. There were attendants to ensure that loos are kept spick and span. I once had an opportunity to meet the person who built that hotel. I could not resist bringing up the ‘loo’ topic He laughed and said almost every customer of theirs gave the same feedback. He had planned that when he sets up his first hotel, he would ensure that the loos are big and clean. And my colleague keeps reminding me how at gas stations in India, the attendants have their cash bags open with bundles of notes in their hands but the loo is mostly locked.
United Nations and World Bank and such other such bodies have come out with alternate indicators of measuring poverty, which goes beyond the Rs30 per day income. Extent of Poverty needs to be measured on how a place scores in public amenities like sanitation and health. In fact poor nations like Nepal have made huge progress in such public infrastructure and are richer than India. It is time we learn from them. Hence I wholly support Modi’s statement that India needs more toilets than temples. I hope the Congress party members do not replicate what RSS workers did to Mr. Jayaram Ramesh.
And come to think of it, the topic of toilet is not taboo at all. Even the well known TS Eliot once commented – “My name is only an anagram of toilets.”